Wesley finished dismantling the first of Merrick's two shotguns. They were in a sad state, clogged and rusty in places. Most of Merrick's firearms needed attention. The dead Slayer had apparently only known what to do with his knives and stakes. Wesley was running the first of several patches through the bore when the door rattled. He froze. Merrick's house was not in the best of neighborhoods, and he'd already had to make a point to the local youth.
A key slid into the lock and failed to turn. Whoever was on the other side shook the knob impatiently. Wesley stood, taking one of the fresh stakes with him. A blonde girl stood on what had been Merrick's front porch. Wesley recognized her from the file photographs: the dead Slayer. Buffy, not a nickname, Summers. Her hair gleamed under the porch light. She wore a leather jacket and fatigues, and a military duffle sat at her feet. She looked put out.
The stake slid from sleeve to hand without Wesley's conscious input.
"Huh," the dead Slayer said. He watched her eyes flicker as she scanned. His face, to his feet, to the dim room behind him, back to his face. He did not let the stake waver. "Who are you?"
"Buffy Summers. I know."
"So, can I come in or what?"
Buffy gazed at him, calm and unfazed by his suspicion. She stepped over the threshold slowly, palms out to make her intentions clear. Once she was through the door, uninvited, Wesley grasped her wrist, checked for a pulse. Warm, breathing, alive. So. He had a Slayer after all. He released her reluctantly.
"I take it they finally sent me a new Watcher."
Wesley blinked and shut the door behind her. "Yes." He shot the dead-bolt, and turned to find the Slayer watching him, head tilted. She gave him a tiny smile.
"I expected you to be taller," she said.
"Well, I expected you to be dead."
Wesley tucked the stake into the back pocket of his jeans. "A new Slayer was called a week ago. Leather trousers, tattoos, chip on her shoulder. Furious with me for existing. Not shy about telling me so."
He gestured toward his face and the traces of what had been a spectacular shiner. Buffy went up on her toes to examine it. Her fingers brushed his face where it was sore-- hot skin, Slayer hot. Wesley shivered. She laughed.
"Explains the point-first welcome. Where's the new chick?"
"I sent her to Sunnydale. To clean up, ah--" After your death, Wesley did not say.
Buffy shrugged and strode into the sitting room as if she belonged there. She did belong there. She had far more right than he. She slung her duffle bag into a corner. Wesley heard the rattle of metal on metal. "Good. The guy there was in over his head. Bitter about it. Called himself something weird. Watcher without a portrait or something." She made a face.
"Portrait? Ah." Wesley laughed. "Watcher without portfolio. Well. He has one now."
Buffy shrugged. "Good luck to her. Gonna go wash the Greyhound off. Assuming you didn't already get rid of my stuff?"
Wesley shook his head. Buffy made no further small talk with him, but vanished down the hallway with her duffle. He heard the shower running moments later. He listened for-- he didn't know what. Well. He too was no longer a Watcher without portfolio. He had Merrick's house, Merrick's Slayer, Merrick's guns. Step smoothly into the role, and try not to die Merrick's death.
Wesley got up to make tea. He needed to think, and the ritual was soothing. Something homely and warm in this terrible, bare, scarred life he'd been handed. He'd already rearranged Merrick's starved kitchen to his liking, turned it into something more like a home and less like a barrack. It was his now, like the guns and the Slayer, his to repair. Nothing that Merrick had left behind had been in good case. How was he to deal with it all? Untrained, little field experience, green, that was what he was. He'd made a complete hash of the single afternoon he'd spent with the new Slayer, and earned himself an unqualified rejection. At least Buffy seemed calmer. More professional. Perhaps he might stand a chance with her.
He scrubbed his fingers through his stubble and tried to think what to do.
"You Watchers are all alike. Fussy about tea, not so fussy about remembering to shave."
Wesley startled. Buffy was in the kitchen door, back from her shower already. Her arms were raised, hands fiddling with something at the back of her neck. A leather cord, Wesley saw, from which hung a heavy silver cross. He wore a crucifix himself, under his button-down shirt. Religion had nothing to do with it.
He pushed himself into motion and resumed the tea ritual. Flame under gas, tea pot down from the cabinet and set out on the counter. He paused with his hand hovering over the jars of loose tea. Perhaps a spot of hospitality, comfort offered from Watcher to Slayer.
"Do you have a preference?"
Buffy searched among the canisters for a moment and emerged with one. She handed it to him slowly, as if reluctant to let go of it. "He liked this. Merrick. The tea with the funny little balls."
She leaned back against the counter and watched him finish setting out the tea things. Wesley watched her covertly. Her hair was wet at the edges. She'd dressed in something less military than the black fatigues she'd been in earlier. A white tank top, jeans. Her muscled arms were bare. The body of a warrior. Deadly. Such contrasts: the smooth skin and the lovely breasts, and that scar across her mouth. She'd been quick in the shower. She'd be quick in everything, he thought. Lightning and quicksilver, in battle and in bed.
She'd caught him staring. Wesley flushed and shook himself, but she merely smiled and stepped across the kitchen to take the kettle off the flame. It had gone on the boil and he hadn't even noticed.
They took their cups back to the sitting room. Merrick had treated it as a work room. He'd hung weapons on the walls and strewn more on the floor. There was no sofa, no comfortable armchair, just a broad worktable and a tool chest. Merrick's approach to home decor had been along the lines of the kitchen: scattershot and haphazard, with little attention to human comforts or indulgences, the handiwork of a man whose attention was elsewhere. Wesley had taken a resolution to change that, but hadn't progressed further than the kitchen.
Wesley set his teacup down on the table and returned to the shotgun. He ran the rod through the barrel, scrubbing out gunpowder residue. Someone had fired this shotgun many times and hadn't bothered to care for it afterward. Buffy drifted over and leaned on the table. She watched him silently. He stole a look at her. He wondered how she'd won the scar on her face, what had happened to score a permanent mark on the Slayer. He tried to imagine her three years ago, before the destiny had burned her. When she'd worn lip gloss instead of scars.
He flushed again when she met his gaze, but this time she looked away first. He covered by clearing his throat.
"How did the new Slayer come to be called, I wonder? Because you do not appear to be dead."
"Oh. Yeah. Well. I died."
Wesley raised an eyebrow.
"For a minute. Clinically. The Master broke my neck. Everything went black. Came to with that other Watcher doing mouth to mouth. Came to again in the hospital."
She pulled a chair over next to his and picked up the shotgun barrel. He handed her the cleaning rod. She ran it through, imitating him carefully. She did not appear to have any experience with the gun, though she wasn't afraid of it. He turned his attention to the receiver.
"Funny thing about the Slayer healing. It can fix a lot of stuff so long as I'm still alive. Like severed spinal cords." Her hand rose to the back of her neck and rubbed. He thought perhaps she wasn't aware of making the gesture. "Took two days. Two days with a machine breathing for me. Let me tell you, that was not a party experience."
Buffy looked through the barrel, and he couldn't see her face. "Third morning I could feel my nose itch. Wiggled my toes at noon. Checked myself out through a window before sundown."
"And the Master?"
Buffy shrugged and set down the barrel. "The new chick has something to do."
And that was a shadow across a face that needed no more shadows. That face belonged in the sunlight, and it was so much lovelier smiling. Wesley hated himself for bringing that shadow into the room; always so clumsy, he was. He resolved not to do it again, if he could, not to remind her. The affair was over, and it was the new Slayer's problem now.
"Right, then," Wesley said. "If you've still no interest in dinner? We have only one problem before us this evening."
Buffy folded her arms. "What's that?"
"This lovely bit of walnut. Was it left out in the rain?"
Wesley picked up the gunstock, which had once been a gunsmith's pride. The grain was still a lovely thing under the stains.
"Something like that," Buffy said. Her voice was odd. Had he just trod on her toes again? He heard her fiddling with the tools strewn over the table. "Rains more here than it does in LA."
"And even more where Merrick and I came from."
Her chair scraped on the bare floor. Buffy vanished down the hallway. He'd transgressed again, and reminded her of past loss. Wesley wondered if she were finished with him for the night. He soaked a rag in gun oil and began rubbing it into the stock. Buffy reappeared a few minutes later and joined him. She had a bottle of nail polish, something pale pink, with glitter. She uncapped it and set to work on her hands as methodically as he was working on the gunstock.
She refreshed his teacup a little while later, silently. She'd noticed he took it with a little milk and no sugar. Observant. He opened his mouth to praise her, then shut it again. She didn't need praise from the likes of him.
Buffy capped the bottle of nail polish. Wesley gazed up at her. She was holding out her hands to inspect her work. There she was, the woman behind the Slayer. The girl who'd lived in California sunshine, there at his second-hand worktable. She smiled to herself, unconscious of his gaze, and stretched gracefully. Wesley's breath caught. He hadn't been expecting this. The Slayer he'd met last week had been all coiled violence and anger and instinct. She'd exploded at him and discarded him. This Slayer was nothing like her. This woman had a sweet smile.
Well done, Pryce, he told himself. His Slayer had been with him for three hours, just three short hours. He needed to keep his mind on his job. He was here to kill vampires, not to moon about over her. She would likely have no patience with him. He shook his head and forced himself to turn away from her, back to his work. Back to restoring some sense of order to his second-hand life.
He turned his attention to the second gun. It was obviously mate to the first, one of a matched pair by the same maker. It looked to be in considerably better condition. He pulled the trigger. Smooth, definite engagement point. The hammer snapped down solidly. The slide action felt good. He broken open the gun and sniffed. This gun hadn't been used since it had left the maker's workshop. A touch of oil to keep the mechanism smooth, then. He set it down.
Buffy stood and came around near him. He could smell the soap she'd used in her hair, and he breathed in deeply. Soap and nail polish and gunstock oil and a whiff of his tea. She leaned against the table and nudged the shotgun. "Brutal."
"Say rather, efficient."
"I'd have pegged you for a guy who picks the elegant solution. A sword, not a shotgun."
That was perceptive. Wesley inclined his head to her. "There's elegance in efficiency. Isn't this a beautiful thing? Nothing is wasted."
Her mouth twitched in distaste. "It's a weapon. A tool."
"That's its purpose. But it's also art. Lovely." Without thinking, he reached out and brushed his fingers over her lips, where the scar was. "So are you."
She flushed, but didn't flinch. Wesley dared to allow his hand to linger, then tried to shy away. Her hand closed around his wrist, holding him in place.
"It's okay. I, um-- Hey. Before, I didn't say, nice to meet you."
She drifted closer to him, close enough that he could feel her body heat. Wesley's breath came fast.
"A pleasure to meet you as well."
"You're not what I expected."
"Way more alive than you were thinking, huh?" Her voice was unsteady.
His was not. "Yes," Wesley said and bent his head to hers.